TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Debate: Should students rely on technology for their homework?

Today, students use ipods, ipads, phones, laptops, and different tablets to use the internet to help them with their homework. Don't know a word? Google it. Don't know the answer to this math problem? Use a calculator. And so on. Does this make sense?

  • thumb
    Oct 19 2012: it is one thing to use technology to blindly answer a question when you don't even understand what you're answering. it's another thing to use it as a tool when you fully understand what you are doing.

    it's the difference between relying on something and utilizing something. relying is not so good.
  • thumb
    Oct 22 2012: As anything in the world, technology has its up sides and down falls when incorporated to the education system. There is no question that using technology is very convenient for taking and preserving class notes, organizing assignments and planning ahead of time, however, the problem with this is that it creates a 'tech dependency' that is difficult to escape from.
    Students in the past had to hand write everything, and the only source that could be used when they did not understand something, apart from asking the teacher, was books such as the dictionary and the encyclopedia. They had to learn to manage time independently, and they had to learn to keep notes organized so that they could be used when necessary. As a result, students in the past were very independent and down to earth.
    Compared to this, the students today have all commodities that could make education simpler; internet and compact technology. Students go on the internet for all kind of help, including websites, translation kits and Q and A sites. This may seem like a positive change, however, in the long run it creates tech-dependent adults, because they need this convenience for anything that they are responsible to do. Life does not work that way: sometimes we are demanded more than what technology can offer us in a golden plate. We have to study from analog sources, and interact with other people face to face.
    Technology may help students reach for a variety of information the fastest and easiest way possible, but at the same time make them inefficient without its help.
  • thumb
    Nov 18 2012: technology is just a medium, what counts is that you use your own brain in what you are learning and contributing on the subject. for example, if you find the meaning of a word or concept through an internet search once and then you intentionally use it and apply it beyond that homework, you are learning. but if you have to keep searching for the same thing, you are not engaging with the concept.
  • Nov 17 2012: I'm joining this conversation late, so I apologize if I'm repeating other's ideas. My understanding of teaching and learning took a quantum leap when I stumbled upon Bloom's Taxonomy (with Anderson's update) of cognitive activities:
    knowledge, (remembering)
    comprehension, (understanding)
    application, (applying)
    analysis, (analyzing)
    synthesis, (creating the highest level in Anderson's update)
    evaluation, (evaluating)
    Yes, I found this on the web.
    Most of the comments I've read only address the lowest level of cognitive activity - knowledge. Learning, to be of any use to the learner, at a minimum must get to the third level - understanding. To learn in a meaningful way - to develop the ability to use your own mind to manage your life and contribute to society requires the learner to actually exercise their own mind and develop not just knowledge, but understanding and the abilities to integrate new knowledge with what is already known and apply it to multiple different situations.
    Or simply put, using technology as a learning aid can be helpful *if* students are required to do more than just collect information or harvest the results of others' efforts. Teachers have to demand that their students get beyond collecting information by giving assignments and guiding classroom exercises that require students to demonstrate understanding and synthesis of new information.
    For example, a test question like "What's the state capitol of Maine?" signals students that all they need to do to pass tests is memorize facts. Questions like "Why does the US federal government have 2 houses of Congress?" or "What are some advantages and some disadvantages of having only 2 major political parties in the US?" signals students that they need to use facts that they've learned for purposes above and beyond just knowing something.
    • Nov 17 2012: Hey Louise,
      I really liked your final point about students using higher cognitive abilities than basic memorization (ie looking up on wikipedia). I agree that if the teachers learn to adapt to the technology appropriately we will get students who are better able to use creative thinking and problem solving to answer questions instead of just basic fact digging. I mean I think this could be easily compared to when calculators came out and people were worried about the fact that students wouldn't be able to do basic mathematics in their head, however that technology has allowed us to move past the basic drudge work and spend more time on the process of mathematical reasoning. Although I do sometimes feel helpless without a calculator, I won't lie... need to practice my times tables I guess.
  • Oct 26 2012: I think students should be able to use all tools at their disposal, they'll need to know how to use them to get ahead in the work force. Knowledge of all aspects of the web and it's capabilities in necessary to thrive in this day and age.
  • Oct 21 2012: As a student, I believe that technology helps with assignments and studying, but we should not rely on it. Not all the information you find online is accurate.
  • thumb
    Oct 20 2012: Yes, students should rely on technology for their homework.

    That said, the main danger is that you will come to rely on technology as a substitute for direct experience and experimentation, moving you away from other solutions that allow for other kinds of knowledge.

    I will give you some specific examples where relying on technology too much will cause our society significant problems. I believe we may have developed neural structures over the eons that allow us to whisper information up and down through time and the generations, and across space. We see evidence of this in indigenous cultures, with people regularly "talking" with their ancestors, receiving wisdom. I also see evidence when our own CIA had a fairly well funded program which is now commonly referred to as "remote viewing", for the purpose of using "extra sensory perception" on military targets.

    Perhaps the biggest example I could give though, is the case of indigenous peoples who implicitly know how to make medicine out of plants (or animals even) in the wild - they know how to do this, despite that fact that we Westerners, with all our great technology, can't find crap in the rain forests without the help of people that figured this out, without "technology".

    Let me repeat that - these so called primitive people figured out critically important medicines that we rely on today, that we could not have figured out with technology. When you ask them how, they answer something like, "the plants spoke to me."
  • Oct 19 2012: Ultimately, students are best to rely on themselves, using technology as learning tools, not relying on them. Less we pitfall languorously while masquerading as time efficient. Perhaps this creates dependency, contributing to illiteracy. Or, not
  • thumb
    Oct 18 2012: Yes.

    In real-world practice and applications, I would say that being able to navigate the web to search for your answer is more valuable of a skill than trying to solve the problem yourself. From my experience, you find the answer you need like 99% of the time on the web. If the technology is there, why not use it? A lot of times, you're required to understand the answer yourself anyways. Granted, using external resources can depend on the context of the task at hand.

    If the questions to the student are google-able, even though the purpose of the questions are for the students to solve on their own, then that's imo bad design. If the teacher wants students to figure things out on their own without external help, then the questions should be designed accordingly.
    • thumb
      Oct 19 2012: An excellent question may be google-able. For example, what do you think of students posting a question here asking what the three main ideas are in a talk? Or for people's perspectives on some aspect of a classic book the student is assigned to reflect about?

      The same can happen with problems in mathematics.

      Posing "figure out" homework questions to others on the internet and transcribing the result is typically possible but creates dependence on others rather than developing an ability to think or consider. It is not unlike copying a classmate or having your dad do your homework.
      • thumb
        Oct 19 2012: Well, I wouldn't consider those "google-able" since you require other people to answer those questions, whereas finding answers via Google is just searching if there's an answer out there without the need for anyone to reply to your query.
  • thumb
    Oct 18 2012: The internet is a valuable and efficient source of information, provided the student has learned to distinguish credible sources from those that are not credible.

    But students should not be looking online for the answers to questions they are supposed to "figure out" rather than "find out."
  • Nov 12 2012: This question encompasses far more than homework; it considers the fundamental roots of our education system today and how it has rapidly changed as technology has advanced. The proliferation of the mobile device, specifically among the younger population, has created an increasingly short attention span. Rather than demand our students learn to read, write and do math in the standard fashion, educators have adapted to this shorter, "sound bite", attention of the new generation. Further, educators feed the need of these children to be entertained and have created a form of "edutainment" using technology, media, info-graphics and quick lessons.

    Why do children need an iPad or a computer to learn to multiply? Or to learn a simple history lesson? Or biology? Take the homework question out of the equation. Did many of us not learn these lessons from textbooks and highly qualified teachers? Computer skills are separate from these lessons; I don't deny their importance, but they are not fundamental to teaching the core of the English language, mathematics or science. In fact, computers are often an impediment to teaching children how to spell and write. The cost of education is skyrocketing while the quality is plummeting. Ask yourself why.
  • Nov 7 2012: I find it funny that people ask about technology while meaning computers when even a pen or pencil was a technological innovation at the time. Speech, the written word, the dictionary, the thesaurus, and mathematics are all also forms of technology as well regardless of whether we're talking electronic, written or spoken. The technology just gives people more ways of figuring things out and making sense of the world in multiple respects. Should students rely on the technologies you're citing? Yes. Should they rely SOLELY on the technologies you're citing? No.
  • thumb
    Nov 2 2012: It really doesn't work that way. The written word is still powerful in the ranks of the educated and engineering. It will never go away. But, the fact that illiteracy can expand as children are given more powerful tools to educate themselves says much about how a lazy lifestyle can lead to undereducated.

    As technology increasingly takes over jobs and provides commodities that are superior in quality the hand made products, we would expect to see a decrease in the need for educated people. This is what we are seeing today. If I want a product, depending on how complex that product is, I can probably have it manufacture without human hands ever touching it.

    So, if we can use technology to solve all our problems, whey do we need educated people in the first place? Even most General practice doctors can't produce a diagnosis as well as computer software and a few technicians supervised by a nurse. Already the computer has replaced the great majority of workers in the office environment. CNC machines and automated assembly lines have already replaced a host of workers and craftsmen.

    I'm afraid the trend is for smarter machines and not so smart people. The big question is how do we get rid of the unneeded people? How do we prevent them from reproducing? Bill Gates and his people have an answer for that questions. Viruses. Has anyone noticed how those simple colds we used to fight off and have increased in number each year and appear to last longer and longer?
  • Nov 1 2012: I'm a current student in Australia and I must disagree with the belief that technology is ruining the schooling systems. Assignments cannot be copied from the internet as any assignment nowadays must be handed into a school run website that insures there are no sections of plagiarized material. Working on technology also decreased the need for paper in the classroom which has environmental benefits, and technology also allows students to be connected to teachers whenever a problem arises. Therefore I see technology more as a blessing than the curse that so many perceive it.
    • thumb
      Nov 1 2012: My daughters had to do this also when they were in high school in the United States. It is not universal, though.
  • thumb
    Oct 31 2012: I think assignments should be different from what they've been in the past, even though I'm not sure of the new form they should take; but I think one may not have learned anything if almost all the assignments can be copied from some online page and then pasted and submitted. Some schools are able to notice and penalize plaigarism.

    So much has been change about the need to change the education system; but I think the mode of assessment should also be considered for change.
    • thumb
      Nov 2 2012: I'm taking online college courses and they talk openly about the test questions, even before taking the test. It's as if testing mean nothing anymore or is second place to understanding the material. I don't know what methods we will use to qualify people for their careers in the near future.

      Learning such things as Genetics is a simple task these days for those who really want to learn. For the others, It is an insurmountable task and always was for them during school. Some want to know while others simply want to exist. Engineering is still math intensive and there is no way around it.

      I've tested the young people around me and they all know many facts but if you pose them with a question that demands logic and math, they fall on their face. What they don't know they can find out real fast these days but if you ask them to solve a problem they can't do it in a reasonable amount of time. The harder the problem, the more time it takes, the more frustrated they become. The amazing thing is how short a time it takes to get to the point of frustration than it used to take with more primitive educational tools.

      I believe in the dummy down process as knowledge become even more available. You can pretty well judge how a child will end up in life from the video games they play and how they use their cell phones.

      We are approaching a time when we will have to decide how we are going to decrease the population of this planet. Population culling is the only path to a Class I Civilization.
  • Oct 31 2012: I spare a thought just for a moment what would happen if we don't have a technological revolution ?
    There is no doubt that technology has made a drastic change in our life , nobody could deny that . Students now could tackle with plethora of obstacles which face them everyday , and that doesn't mean they will depend entirely on it and neglect their mind , they have to balance . in addition , it is lovely to take into our account the advantages from getting a lot of information easily and faster .
  • Oct 31 2012: As an American teacher of science, I find that the challenge is students don't engage in schoolwork the same way they engage in everyday life. I really want them to marry the idea that what I am teaching them is not information to be stored in a box, but to integrate into their lives AT THAT MOMENT. So I go about finding ways (technology included) to get them to do that. So I agree with Yuddandi that students shouldn't have too much technology that could water down the learning process (by finding instant answers), AND I also agree with others that say we should teach them to use technology to solve a vast array of problems. The MOST important factor, comes from within the student: intrinsic motivation. In 4 years of teaching and 23 years of parenting, I find kids learn best when their misconceptions are interrupted and teachers create disequilibrium.
  • Oct 31 2012: Manipulating technology to solve problems should be a central part of their education. As for the usual complaint raised at this point, my opinion is that there is no better way to learn a system than to try to cheat it. We teach our kids what to think and not how to think. I firmly believe that each human being harbors something singular. Something that will draw him in and become a permanent and satisfying part of his life. Teach children to use the machines that will open the vast array of knowledge we have accumulated in five thousand years. In simpler terms teach them the basics and then get out of their way.
    • thumb
      Nov 10 2012: I'm a student and we use technology integrated in our school and education system – which I believe gives me a credible insight to the issue.
      Yes, I think your idea of trying to use "reverse psychology" to make students smarter by 'tricking' them into thinking they're cheating is a good idea, and perhaps also a healthy challenge to creativity. The problem is that it cannot be an official announcement, because cheating is illegal.

      Secondly, and most importantly, what I've experienced so far is that we have a new subject in maths, for instance, and learn a lot of new methods and techniques as to how to solve the problems. When we've learned that, we learn which commands to use in our calculation programs, and how to solve such problems, then we write those down – and every time we get a home assignment, we simply use those commands and let the calculator-program do all the work. By the time we get to the final exam, and we can no longer use the computers, far the most people have forgotten how to solve the issues by hand method

      We become too dependent on the computers, because we are taught how to solve the issues by commands, and not by how to think of the answer by ourselves. That is an issue, and creativity dies out that way. Something needs to be done about it, and I think "encouraging" students into cheating by being smart might be a healthy solution to that issue.
  • thumb
    Oct 31 2012: As a student myself, I think technology when used with moderation (within the guidelines set forth by a competent teacher) can be tremendously useful in helping students understand their work better. This is certainly the case where professors assign homework that is specific to them i.e. they have created the problems themselves and are confident that answers cannot be simply copied from the internet. Before the advent of technology, the ability for students to collude and complete homework always existed. Technology simply makes it easier. With respect to the part of the question that asks whether such behavior makes sense - of course it does. Modern advancements have increased greatly the comfort and ease with which humans can interact, work, etc. It should come as no surprise that the internet has led to students being able to find information faster and with greater ease. In many cases, students learn better from online resources (i.e. Khan Academy) than from their teachers at school - the case for homework is no different. The internet has simply made it harder for professors to assign homework that they know students can find the answer to online and they need to be more creative with the problems they assign.
  • Oct 31 2012: I think the question should not be centered on if the students should rely on technology or not, but instead on which level of technology is appropriated for each grade, elementary scholars should not use a calculator for their homework however high school students not only should but must. What level of technology should be allowed on each grade must be based on the maturity of the average student of that grade.
  • Oct 28 2012: No, students should never rely on technology for homework. By relying on technology, students create the harmful dependence relationship that flunks boatloads of students on tests simply because they cannot work independently on problems aimed to test the understanding of mathematical knowledge and the development of mathematical thinking. Students should rely on innate abilities to do homework, only using technology on occasion as tools to further expand on mathematical self-discoveries or ideas.

    Take the analogy of a mechanic. In his toolbox is a variety of tools that he uses to do useful work. Yet he doesn't carry a wrench in his hand 24/7 nor does he tighten every bolt he sees with that wrench. Similarly, students should not be armed with a calculator and Yahoo! Answers to finish math homework by plugging in numbers and equations into calculators or cut&paste answers online into their homework. In the short-term, they do work, but in the long-term, they aren't doing useful work.
    • Oct 31 2012: Try not to be so negative. The kids in those classrooms are learning something far more important than history, biology and physics, they're learning how to interact with and use an electronic network in all its assciated forms, which for the first time in human history makes instantaneous communication and knowledge retrieval possible.
      In order to accomplish this it is first necessary to learn how to handle the hardware. No better way to learn the system than by trying to cheat with it. You let a one year old baby fall enough and he will soon learn to walk. And when these kids today get to their feet and start running you better hold on 'cause it't going to be a wild ride.
      • Oct 31 2012: Yes, using technology may give rise to understanding concepts, hence teachers teach students about using calculators, online graphing tech or SAGEMATH (which I suggest everyone use).

        But the question is not the general understanding of math. It's the usage of tech when doing homework. At this stage, homework is used to reinforce concepts and make students apply their new-found knowledge. In this sense, tech plays a smaller role because it can only verify answers.
  • thumb
    Oct 26 2012: I think in today's day and age, technology in schools and universities are absolutely necessary. It makes the course material more accessible to everybody and makes assignments much easier to submit. Although it makes student life a lot easier it can also be stressful if there are issues with the technology. For example if you have a assignment due at 11:59pm and the server crashes at 11:50, you are pretty much hooped for that assignment.
  • Oct 26 2012: Whether students should rely on technology for their homework largely depends upon their attitude towards the information that they can acess through these advanced learning devices. If students believe that all information related to their homework on the internet is absolutely correct without a doubt leading them to naturally seek answers of their homework without any cogitaion when doing homework, then relying on technology has baneful effect on students. Otherwise these products of technology will be beneficial auxiliary learning tools and bring nothing but benefits to students study.

    PS. I am a university student in China who is still learning English now so that if I make some grammatical mistakes or some sentences that are grammatical right but think in Chinese way hindering you to understand, then just feel free to point them out.
  • Oct 26 2012: Technology is a very useful tool for us students, if it is used properly (i.e. for doing homework, researches, ...) and not for too hours and end. I think it is up to parents to monitor how their children use technological devices.
  • thumb
    Oct 26 2012: Why not? While anyone can take the advantage of technology, why not the students ?
    That being said , understand from where you are coming from. My feeling is , the format of homework need to be changed in a way so that despite using technology , students are encouraged to use their creativity.
    Our so called education system hasn't evolved as fast as technology evolved that's the challenge.
  • thumb
    Oct 26 2012: What does it mean "rely on technology for homework"? If it means "should technology be required to complete homework?", my answer is "no". Human brains work differently. For some people, technology is counterproductive. I know people who had straight "A" in high school and who cannot use any software, except the browser. Students should not be forced into one learning style.

    What students are studying is also critical for the answer. I believe, computers are not necessary to learn most of the school math. It's difficult to type formulas on a computer or sketch geometrical shapes. I think, learning math is just fine on paper. Ability to calculate numbers is not as important as the ability to learn concepts. Most school math problems use simple integers that do not even require a calculator. And there is no harm in learning to do approximate calculations without a calculator.

    Reading a book from start to end on an e-reader is fine, but when it is necessary to switch from chapter to chapter, a paper book is, sometimes, more convenient. For me, it's easier to navigate a paper book. E-books do not provide the same physical sense of where I am in the book.

    For literature research, computers are indispensable. Having dictionaries and translators from all languages at fingertips is a huge advantage over paper dictionaries and encyclopedia.

    So, there is no unequivocal question to this question (and I googled the definition of "unequivocal" to make sure I'm not misusing the word). It's like asking "should we rely on cars for transportation"?
  • thumb
    Oct 26 2012: I have a son in high school. On many subjects, he cannot do his homework without a computer - the assignments are online, the text books are online, etc. So, he spends hours "doing homework"... and then has a bunch of "incompletes". Why? Because all his friends are also online, email pops up every minute, links to news and RSS feeds pop up every minute, he can download music, movies, games, etc. Sometimes he spends more time setting up some application or trying to print something than doing actual homework.

    High schools require graphing TI calculators these days. My son says, he "needs" it for homework. Yeah, right. After a few days of using it, he figured out how to play "Doom" on that TI calculator (I'm not kidding - the DOS shooter game from 1980s).

    My son's high school, in fact, has a policy to have all electronic devices off in class. I think, this is a right policy. At his age, the neural connections in his brain are exploding. Teenagers have hard time navigating their world anyway - tracking assignments, activities, events, commitments, etc. I'm not sure that having all information in the world at their fingertips makes them more productive as students. Sometimes I think that a textbook and a notebook with a pencil might be more effective for homework.

    On the other side, these days, it is possible to take an on-line class from Stanford for free. Using technology is a skill.

    It seems to me that technology these days develops faster than our ability to use it. Someone has noted that these days an average cell phone has more computing power than NASA mainframe in 1969. NASA used this power to launch a man to the moon, and we use it to launch birds into pigs. It does not seem that technology necessarily makes us smarter or more educated. For sure, it makes us busier. And, perhaps, it's more difficult to brainwash people these days.
  • thumb
    Oct 25 2012: I don't understand the word "student" here. Since if it's college students then it's not even a debate. Of courseeeeeee. They can use Google to find meaning of a word, they can use calculator. There will be problem when they try to find solution book and then just copy it.

    For the case a child learns how to add two numbers; then allow using a calculator will defeat the purpose.
  • thumb
    Oct 24 2012: Personally, I think knowing how to use technology as a resource to aid learning is almost as important as learning the concept itself. I can cite a few reasons for this:

    -Technology saves time: If you life your life as though you were going to die any minute, you become acute aware of just how important time management is. Sure, there is a joy to looking up a word in a dictionary or computing arithmetic manually, and these are exercises that kids can be taught at a young age - however, as they grow older and have 'mastered' basic concepts like these, I don't see why they should be precluded from using the internet or calculators. This is particularly holds true in exams, where time is of the essence. An exam should measure a person's ability to solve problems and think, not their ability to compute complex logarithms or perform arithmetic.

    -Technology boosts learning: Technology helps make learning so much more dynamic than a standard teacher-textbook approach. Technology provides us with visualizations, useful resources, and models to help imbibe a concept. Someone who studies anatomy using a an online 3-D model in conjunction with their class is probably going to be able to visualize the human body much better than someone who has only benefited from a textbook perspective.

    -Technology is progressive: As a global society, we are constantly pushing boundaries and innovating. Technology is a reflection of this reality. The earlier students are taught to embrace and adopt technology, the more capable they will be to hack, deconstruct, and build new and better technology themselves. This is not to say traditional learning styles should be abandoned all together - there is a great strength in knowing how to use book references/catalogs/arithmetic, especially should technology fail (eg a power outage) - however, not knowing how to use technology is equally crippling, especially in today's age of constant research and innovation.

    Technology aids and informs learning.
  • Oct 24 2012: I think the problem, as in any generation with advancing technology, is not whether or not we should be using the technology but whether we understand the technology and are using it with care. In one sense technology can lead us to simplify and organize the base level trudge through simple arithmetic and computation and research to achieve more complex solutions to problems, however without being careful technology can also lead us to dependence on quick answers and instant gratification which, in a situation where technology is not readily accessible, may lead one to feel lost or anxious (or lead one to assume disorders like ADD). I think we can not depend on technology solely as a means to make all decisions nor should we completely reject technology and view it as some evil. We must learn to look critically at our use of technology while also appreciating a beauty and possibilities which it provides.